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International Albinism Day: East African albinos face death threats

DODOMA: On International Albinism Day (13.06.2015), rights groups are raising awareness of the plights of albinos. In East Africa, albinos are considered outsiders and in Tanzania they face daily threats to their lives.

The reason is superstition stirred by business people and traditional healers. They believe albinos have magical powers. They say special medications can be obtained from their bones. According to experts, body parts of albinos sell for hundreds of euros on the black market and people can be sold dead or alive for up to 65,000 euros. That’s the reason why albinos are often victims of attacks. United Nations figures show that at least 75 albinos have been killed in Tanzania since 2000 – dozens more have been mutilated.

In May of this year, attackers dismembered the hand of a 30 year-old woman in the western region of Katavi. Eight suspects appeared in court. Mabula is afraid for his family, who live in Ndembezi,. “I live in a simple hut. I am asking the government to help me build a safe house so that my children can sleep peacefully.”

Due to the high number of attacks on albinos this year, Tanzanian authorities carried out raids, in which more than 200 controversial healers were detained. President Jakaya Kikwete, speaking in March on the issue, condemned the attacks as “disgusting and a disgrace to the nation”. Several NGOs such as the Tanzania Albinism Society work for the the protection of people with albinism. With the help of donations, they seek to break down prejudices through awareness-raising campaigns and to provide safe living conditions for albinos.

Their effort is already having an impact in various parts of the country. Police Chief Valentino Mlolowa told media that the situation for albinos between 2006 and 2009 was especially bad in Mwanza on Lake Victoria. But since 2010, it has improved – only one attack has been reported. But Mlolowa says this is not a reason to celebrate. “The superstition is still widespread in this area,” he says.

Chief Mlolowa thinks measures such as the government program for district schools are much more important. The objective of this program is to improve the teaching of biology. School pupils are taught that albinism is a hereditary disease and unrelated to witchcraft. “The President has ordered all schools to be equipped with laboratories,” Mlolowa says. “The superstition will decrease with a better science education.”

Despite all these efforts, a better life albinos in Tanzania is still a long way off. Many families still hide their children suffering from the skin disorder. Others live in special centers where they are educated and protected – like the Mazoezi Kabanga primary school in Kigoma, western Tanzania. But for Hamida Ramadhani, a mother of three albino children, this is not a long term solution. She feels imprisoned at the Kigoma center and shunned by society. “I feel bad because I hear people are still getting killed.”

14-year-old Deborah Ruge also lives at the center. Since 2010, unknown assailants people have been trying to kill her. Even though she feels well cared for at the center, Ruge says she misses her family. “I wish I could see my parents at least once,” she says.

Berthold Alfred, also an albino, is a primary school teacher. His parents, who living in a village near the Burundian border, have not visited him in a long while. Alfred strongly believes his help is needed at home. “At home I could pass my education,” he says. Alfred would like to set an example and help to break down the prejudices against albinos. But as an albino, he himself depends on the protection of the center.

Albinos could make significant contributions to strengthening their acceptance in society and help eliminate prejudices against them. Isaac Mwaura lives with the pigment disorder and he is a Member of Parliament in neighboring Kenya.

He says he introduced a bill in Kenyan parliament that proposed life sentence for anyone involved in the murder of an albino. With his organization Albinism Society of Kenya, Mwaura has raised up to 100 million Kenyan shillings (900,000 Euros) in donation this year to help albinos.

Mwaura uses the donations for practical purposes. “We use the money to buy sunscreen, glasses and hats for albinos,” he says. Attacks on albinos are rife in Kenya, but for Mwaura, prejudice is deeply personal. His father left his family when he born with the disorder. “He didn’t want to believe I was his child,” Mwaura says.


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